After becoming one of a handful of countries to have their own currency symbols, India is closer to joining a league of nations with website domain names in local languages.

The global nodal agency for domain names, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), has cleared India’s application for internationalized domain names (IDNs) in seven regional languages in the first leg of a two-part approval process, government officials said.

The final approval is expected in a few months and website registrations in regional languages will begin six months after that, a development that is expected to help bridge India’s digital divide and throw open business opportunities.

The first leg of the process—string evaluation—tests whether the domain names being sought are unique to a country and not in use by other nations.

Listen to Pranesh Prakash, programme manager for the Centre for Internet and society, talking about the significance of ICANN"s move, who has been lobbying for it, and how it will affect the universality and standardization of the Internet

“What is left now is the process to test the stability and security of the IDNs," said Govind, senior director at India’s department of information technology (DIT), which falls under the ministry of communication and information technology. Govind uses only one name.

DIT sent a proposal to Icann in May seeking domain names in Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu and Gujarati. Ravi Shankar, joint secretary of DIT, said IDNs will be extended to all of India’s 22 languages eventually.

Once approved, domain names, or addresses of websites, can be typed in local languages with India-specific extensions such as “dot bharat" instead of “dot com".

Firms that register domain names for a fee for individuals and companies are waiting for the approval to come through.

“We expect companies that have ‘dot in’ domain name extension to register themselves in the local languages as well," said Jasjit Sawhney, managing director of Net 4 India Ltd, which registers domain names for a fee.

A lot of generic website names such as www.movies.bharat or are also expected to be registered.

“IDNs registration will be counter-catalytic in more ways that one," Sawhney added.

Regional IDNs are expected to boost local language content, currently considered one of the biggest roadblocks in bridging the digital divide in the country.

India has just about 80million Internet users. This figure is expected to rise to 215 million by 2015, according to the estimates of the department of telecommunications (DoT).

Most of the content on the Internet is in English, and according to some estimates only 10% of India’s 1.1 billion population knows English.

Local language content is also expected to boost e-commerce in India and, in turn, drive more computer and Internet use.

Icann, which is currently working on 31 requests for IDNs representing 19 languages, has so far approved IDNs for nine countries. UnitedArab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Egypt were the first countries to get an approval in May.

In August, Icann gave the go-ahead for IDNs in Thai (Thailand), Arabic (for occupied Palestinian territory, Tunisia and Jordan), and Tamil for Sri Lanka.

Shankar of DIT said the IDN for Tamil in Sri Lanka will not overlap with India’s application as the country name extensions are different.

“The approval is a very welcome move for the country. But what needs to be looked into is the back-end support and transparency of the whole process," said B.K. Syngal, former chairman and managing director of the erstwhile Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (or VSNL, later acquired by Tata Communications Ltd).

Syngal, who considered by many as the father of the Internet in the country, pointed out that the uptake of the “dot in" domain name “has been far fromadequate and the process for allocation of the domain names by the government needs to be made competitive in order to increase theefficiency of the whole system".

Making the process competitive will add to the government’s revenue, he added.

“At present, the allocation of domain names to firms lies with the National Internet Exchange of India, which in turn contracts firms like Afilias (Ltd) to market them," Syngal said.